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Fantasy Baseball 2012: Early Third Base Rankings & Profiles

I posted the preliminary third base list yesterday, and today we get into the profiles. As always, discussion happens in the comment section.

1. Jose Bautista, TOR

Bautista put together a Bondsian first couple of months to the 2011 season, quieting all his doubters that had labeled him a one-hit wonder. Even with the drop-off in production over the next several months, he was still head and shoulders above the next tier of third basemen. How does .302/43/103/105/9 sound? Like a five-category contributor. Bautista at #1 is a no-brainer. You came to read about the rest of them...

2. Evan Longoria, TB

3. Adrian Beltre, TEX

I wrote about both Longoria and Beltre last week.

4. Ryan Zimmerman, WAS

Ryan Zimmerman is a legitimate superstar whose power should have been sapped by an oblique injury that required surgery in May. His power did take a small dip, but he still ended the year with 12 home runs in 101 games. After resting over the offseason, Zimmerman should be return to 2009 and 2010 form in what will be his age 27 season. It would be easy to look at his 2011 numbers and assume a down year, but don't buy it. Zimmerman is the real deal.

5. David Wright, NYM

Hey, did you hear that the Mets are moving in the fences at Citi Field? Yeah, so did all the other people in your league. The consensus seems to be that the development can free Wright up to return to his pre-Citi production. I buy a moderate improvement, but it's worth remembering that his last great season was 2008. By all accounts, he changed his approach when New York switched stadiums to be more pull-happy. Maybe the more modest distances will free his mind, but it's a lot harder to restart a good habit than it is to drop it (take it from a guy who used to be skinny). Be prepared to pay for more than 2009-11, but not 2008. I suspect there will be people in your league willing to do just that.

6. Aramis Ramirez, FA

Like all free agents, it's tough to nail down Ramirez exactly. He answered his critics who bought into a decline based on 2010, and as a result, he's shopping his 25 home runs, near-.300 average, and triple digit RBI potential instead of accepting a $16 million option. Of Aramis' 315 home runs, over half (173) were hit to left field, while another 79 went out in left-center. The best case scenario for him is a ballpark that favors right-handed pull hitters.

7. Alex Rodriguez, NYY

Is A-Rod's career path on a decline? It sure seems so. wOBA obviously isn't a fantasy metric, but it can help with a quick and dirty comparison, so here are his last five years, starting with 2007: .449, .413, .405, .363, .361. Rodriguez has had some highly publicized injuries the last couple of years that have definitely had an effect on his production. He had a hip flexor that caused a lot of problems in 2009 and 2010, and popular speculation is that a change in mechanics (to keep the pain down) put strain on his knee, ultimately leading to the meniscus tear and subsequent surgery in 2011. If healthy, a bounce back could be in order, and though he turns 36 in July, a Rodriguez bounce back is a scary good prospect. Even if not, Rodriguez has proven that he can perform at an above-average level even when he's not 100%.

8. Kevin Youkilis, BOS

Fenway Park doesn't get a lot of pub as a hitter's park (either it doesn't fit The Narrative or home runs are really the only thing that matter to some people), but it ranks third in runs, second in hits, second in get the idea. Kevin Youkilis is a clear beneficiary of this open secret. Home/road splits (pay attention to the doubles):

Home 63 63 265 222 39 71 26 39 34 47 .320 .426 .563 .989 .375 137 169
Away 57 57 252 209 29 40 6 41 34 53 .191 .317 .349 .667 .207 61 90
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 11/14/2011.

This shouldn't really be a knock on Youkilis - after all, he will play half of his games at Fenway in 2012. However, given his relative struggles against RHP (let's be clear, he's not awful against them, but there's a clear split), he's almost a platoon player in fantasy. If I own him, I'm probably watching to make sure he's benched against most righties on the road. I'll take .280 (I buy an bounceback in BA from him) with 15-20 home runs and a spot in the Red Sox lineup if you give it to me, but I don't like having to handcuff a platoon partner.

9. Brett Lawrie, TOR

Lawrie looks like the real deal, and he probably is. He had as good of a rookie campaign as you could possibly want, and that was after his debut was delayed by a hand fracture. It's easy to buy into a high ceiling, but there's no guarantee that he will reach that ceiling in 2012. His lefty/righty splits look even (.292 vs. RHP, .295 vs. LHP), but he was very lucky against lefties (.364 BABIP) while still not showing nearly as much pop. It's a small sample size, and the differences likely won't be nearly as pronounced, but there's little doubt he'll see a lot of lefty specialists in the later stages of games, limiting his fantasy effectiveness. On top of all that, I honestly don't like buying into sophomore phenoms. Fantasy players are always looking for the next big thing, and they're almost always looking to overpay when they think they've found it. Lawrie will be a solid third baseman next year. Are you willing to bet he'll be elite? You'll likely have to pay elite price to find out.

10. Pablo Sandoval, SF

Kung Fu Panda (You may also call him "Fat Ichiro," according to his B-Ref page) rebounded from a mediocre Age 23 season to post a .315 average with 23 home runs in 2011. Which is the true Sandoval - the 2009/11 version, or the 2010 version? The good thing is, we can probably consider 2010 as his floor. If you believe in similarity scores (I don't think they're predictive, but they can be fun), take a look at some similar hitters through their age 24 seasons: Nick Markakis, Vernon Wells, Matt Kemp, Evan Longoria, Robinson Cano. He's not any of those players, but maybe those comparisons can help you sleep at night if your draft strategy forces you to take the #10 third baseman as your starter.

11. Michael Young, TEX

Young was profiled in both the first base and second base ranks. I agree with the general assessment that he performed a bit over his head, but remains a safe mid-round pick, especially as he's eligible at multiple positions. To me, he is the bridge between the two major tiers of third basemen. After this, the road gets rather dicey.

12. Mark Reynolds, BAL

You know what you're getting in Reynolds: low average, tons of strikeouts, and lots of home runs. Playing a full season in the AL East didn't sap his power, and looking back, why should it have? The division is as devoid of front-line starting pitching as it has been in years, and nearly every ballpark in the division is a hitter's haven, with Tropicana the lone exception. I'd be shocked if he doesn't hit 35 home runs again. Just be prepared to take a significant hit to the average.

13. Ryan Roberts, ARI

Roberts' average in 2011 (.249) doesn't really get the pulse racing, but don't be fooled. His line drive percentage (24.3) should support a much higher BABIP than .275 (xBABIP = .319). He probably won't hit quite as many line drives, which should somewhat mitigate any regression, but in OBP leagues he's great (his walk rate is Youkilis-esque) and he'll score plenty of runs. He's also the rare third baseman who could steal 20 bases. What I'm saying is, this guy has potential to be ranked a lot higher this time next year if things fall right for him.

14. Mike Moustakas, KC

ISO, by month:

June: .053, July: .064, August: .061, September: .227. Moustakas turned an awful rookie year into a respectable one with his monster September, and there's hope that he can continue his newfound mastery of American League pitching. There are signs that things aren't all rosy, though: His line against LHP needs improvement (.191/.258/.236) and his strike zone is massive (35.1 O-Swing%). He'll likely struggle with consistency in 2012. He could be a great player one day, but don't bank on it happening yet.

15. Chipper Jones, ATL

Jones and A-Rod posted similar numbers in 2011 (Jones: .275/.344/.470, Rodriguez: .276/.362/.461), and while Jones played in more games, he's certainly no guarantee to do so again. He's also 4 years older and doesn't have nearly the upside. While not a sure thing, if you can find him in the later stages of the draft, he might reward you with close to 20 home runs and middling numbers otherwise.

16. David Freese, STL

Freese missed 51 games last season due to injury, which was his lowest such total over the last three years. He's never played more than 100 games in the majors before. If he can stay healthy, he'll contribute to average, have decent power, and won't kill you in the runs and RBI categories.

17. Chase Headley, SD

Take a look at Headley's home/road splits:

Home 59 50 210 181 15 1 14 7 29 46 .243 .348 .326 .674 .321 75 87
Away 54 52 229 200 28 3 30 6 23 46 .330 .399 .465 .864 .409 123 146
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 11/14/2011.

Headley's production is clearly being limited by Petco (and he ran into some BABIP luck on the road). Why mention this here? Don't all Padres feel the adverse effects of playing in their home park, at least to some degree? Headley has been linked heavily to the Rockies in trade rumors, and San Diego has taken the public position of protesting too much about his availability. That would be quite the change in environment. Even if he doesn't move, you can live with a career .270 hitter at this point in the draft.

18. Martin Prado, ATL

Another player linked with Colorado, Prado had a down year last year, mostly because he all of a sudden couldn't hit the fastball. If - and it's a big if - he can prove to pitchers early in the year that he's got his timing back, a .300 average to go with double-digit home runs is again possible.

19. Edwin Encarnacion, TOR

The third Blue Jay to make this list is Edwin Encarnacion, who was mercifully moved to designated hitter when Brett Lawrie was called up. The position change coincided neatly with a new approach at the plate. As a third baseman in 2011, Encarnacion's triple slash was .213/.287/.385 in 136 plate appearances. In 294 plate appearances as a DH, it was a more robust .296/.361/.494. I wouldn't bet on those numbers for 2012, but I think he's closer to the latter player than the former.

20. Daniel Murphy, NYM

Murphy is reportedly working to shore up his second base defense so that he can have a spot in the Mets lineup - or, if you're inclined to believe the rumors, to make himself more attractive as trade bait. If he plays, and I believe he will, he can give you slightly above average hitting (a repeat of .320 isn't happening) and, more importantly, a moderate amount of speed, which is rare for the position.